Collegiate gymnasts may have been exposed to flame retardant chemicals from polyurethane foam safety equipment, such as pit cubes and landing mats, according to a small pilot study led by a Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health researcher. Flame retardants are associated with neurological and reproductive toxicity and cancer.
The study was published online July 6 in Environment International.
“As a former gymnast, I know that there are many benefits to gymnastics, and I don’t think anyone should quit the sport based on our findings,” lead author Dr. Courtney Carignan, postdoctoral fellow in the department of environmental health at Harvard Chan School, said in a statement. “However, I hope our findings will alert gymnasts and coaches to take precautions to reduce their exposure, and that they will encourage their gyms to purchase flame retardant-free equipment in the future.”
Dr. Carignan and colleagues at Boston University School of Public Health, Duke University, and Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, analyzed 53 urine samples from 11 female college gymnasts from one gym in the Eastern U.S. Their findings included:
An earlier study by the researchers found flame retardant chemicals in the air and dust of a gymnastics training facility in the U.S. and elevated chemical levels in blood samples from college gymnasts who practiced there.
The authors said gymnasts can reduce the risk of flame retardant chemicals entering the bodies by:
Read a press release about the study.
See the Gymnast Flame Retardant Collaborative website that Carignan launched for athletes, parents, coaches, scientists and physicians to exchange information about the issue and learn more.